Custom Embark Strategies

The custom embark feature of Dwarf Fortress is a handy part of the game as it lets you customize exactly what sort of dwarfs you take with you and allows you to set their supplies to your exact specifications. Read on for more information!

Embarking the custom way

So you’ve chosen your perfect location, as per the world generation tutorial, and now you’re ready to embark. What you want to be doing now is selecting Prepare for your journey carefully from the embark menu. You will now be presented with your list of dwarfs and the skills they can access.


Have a fiddle with your controls. The left-right arrows move between the list on the left (dwarfs) and the list on the right (dwarf skills). Select your first dwarf, then arrow over to the skill list and scroll through it. Currently this dwarf has no skills assigned. Find Mining, hit - and keep hitting it until the dwarf is set as a Proficient Miner. Do the same for Mason.

You have now made your dwarf a pretty good mason and a miner! Note, there’s a zero next to his name? This means he can’t accept any more skills. Most of the time you’re going to be giving each dwarf a couple of skills, but one or two dwarfs might be given some outlier skills (leadership skills, for example) to ensure you have a broker from the get-go. There are many strategies when it comes to skill selection, we’ll cover some samples later.

Meanwhile, get back to a dwarf using the arrow key. You’ll see at the bottom the c menu for Customize and v for View. Hit v and have a read about your dwarf’s personality. I usually look for the “friendliest” and mark them in my head for any possible leadership skills.

Head back to the list (Esc) and then hit c. Here you can modify a dwarf’s nickname and profession name. This is handy if you want to make a note of how you’ve skilled each dwarf, or just for your own amusement, of course! Once you’re done there, hitting F or G takes you to a group and fortress menu list. Fiddle around here and come up with a creative name if you want!

When you’re done, (you may have to hit Esc to head back out of the menu), hit Tab to go to the item list. Many items will be on your list already, on the left, with animal options on the right.


As in the last menu, use the arrows to move left and right and the up down arrows to move through the list. Head across to the animal list and hit - a couple of times to add 2 dogs to your party. Go down, add a couple of cats as well. No, make that three of each, then you’ve got a pretty good chance of getting one of each sex. That’s handy for reproduction, so my mum tells me!

= reduces the number of items. Reduce the number of battle axes to one. I usually don’t bother taking two steel battle axes as one skilled woodsman with a single battleaxe is quite enough and getting rid of one will free up some points you can use for other things. As for the rest of the items, that depends on your strategy. For now, hit n for New. You’ll be taken to a huge menu of purchasable items.


Lets add some turtles to the list of stuff we’re going to take. Scroll down to Fish, then across to the right and down to Turtle. Hit Enter, you will now be taken back to the main goods menu and you’ll see turtles added to your list. Hit - until you’ve got 20 turtles. Note, the points available to you will go down as you do this – your available points are in the bottom right corner and the point cost of each item is listed next to the item.

Lets add some Dwarven Wine the other method. Hit n for new, then start typing wine. Pretty soon you’ll be left with only one option, Dwarven Wine. You’ll note that the Drinks part of the menu is highlighted, you’ll need scroll across Dwarven Wine, then hit Enter.


You can now increase and decrease the number in the usual fashion. Lots and lots of drink is a good idea!

Embark Strategies

You now know enough to navigate around the somewhat confusing menus. But what you don’t have is an strategy for what to buy when you’re embarking. Thankfully, there are some really good ideas presented on the Dwarf Fortress Wiki Starting Builds guide and of course, more ideas over on the Dwarf Fortress forums. I suggest going and reading the starting builds guide, there are some fun ideas there – for example, taking no axes, a little wood and then forging your own axes on site (saves you points for other items!).

The DF Starter Pack includes a collection of embark builds, ranging from good for new players to advanced options designed to maximise the impact of each point. You can save your settings with s, if you’re happy with them.

Take all the advice there and then think about the location you’re embarking to. If it seems likely to be a frozen waste, you may chose to modify the builds presented as many are tailored for fairly ideal locations. That being said, there are some interesting ideas for builds centered around extreme fortresses too!

When you’ve spent all your points and modified everything you want, hit e for Embark and enjoy your new fortress!